Friday Five: Bears at Lions 2013

- I get the feeling this is a very different Detroit Lions team the Bears will be facing this Sunday. Different from the Lions teams the Bears have beaten eight of the last nine times the teams have met. Detroit has a powerful offense, especially if Reggie Bush is playing, which he should. More surprisingly, this year the defense appears to be putting it together. Making up for mediocre talent at linebacker and in the secondary is their ferocious defensive line, featuring three former first-round draft picks. If I had a choice, I’d certainly take the days when the Lions blew first round picks on bad receivers in successive drafts (Charles Rogers, Roy Williams, Mike Williams).

- That being said, there is no reason why the Bears should lose this game. The biggest question mark Sunday for the Bears will be the health of Charles Tillman, who has held Lions receiver Calvin Johnson in check better than any corner in the NFL. If Tillman is unable to play due to his sore knee, the task will be delegated to Zack Bowman, a journeyman special teams player. And guess what-Bowman is fighting an injury as well.

- If there was a game so far in 2013 in which Chicago’s pass rush needs to come from its four linemen, it is this game. The starting four of Julius Peppers, Stephen Paea, Henry Melton and Corey Wooton have two sacks. Bears linebackers have three. If Chicago relies on the blitz as heavily as they did against the Steelers last week, I’m afraid the results will not be pretty. And as we know, now Melton is lost for the season and has been replaced by Nick Collins. Here’s hoping Collins is everything the team has been saying he is.

- Especially in the beginning of the Steelers game, the Bears were able to march down the field by relying on quick west coast-style passes. I think in order to be successful against the Lions, the Bears will have to execute the short game to nullify the Detroit pass rush.

- I think the Bears should beat the Lions-if their defense performs to the level they’re capable of. If they get no pass rush on Matthew Stafford, let Reggie Bush run wild and/or whatever corner is playing cannot contain Megatron, we could see an unhappy ending. To a surprising opponent.

Bears-Steelers 2013: 3 Up 3 Down

1. The Bears almost unraveled at Pittsburgh, building a 24-3 lead then regressing to a score of 27-24. In my opinion, the key to the victory was the fact the Bears opened aggressively and built the 17-0 lead. We are at the beginning of a long road, early in the 2013 Chicago Bears season, so major adversity will undoubtedly be faced. But as of now, looking at the 3-0 record, I am ecstatic to see this team with its first real offense and the ability to score points when needed that I’ve seen in my lifetime.

2. We’ve all heard of the complexity of Steeler defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau‘s unit, and I finally have appreciation for that after watching the game. Obviously the Bears’ offensive coaches did a fantastic job of scheming properly, and the Bears offensive players executed.

3. Watched an interview with Bears quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh early on Sunday morning. I have to admit that I had a distaste for Cavanaugh when I heard he was joining the Bears staff again in 2013. Nothing personal, but everyone that was associated with the Dave Wannstedt era made me ill (Cavanaugh was the Bears’ offensive coordinator under Wannstedt in 1997 and 1998-two 4-12 seasons). However, after watching him and the progress Jay Cutler seems to have made, I like this guy.

1. At this point I do have complete faith in Bears’ head coach Marc Trestman. Trestman explained away his team frittering away their 24-3 lead, saying that in the NFL with a team that is still talented like Pittsburgh, good teams will not sit there and allow that lead to be built. It was very unsettling to see the lead go away, but in the end, the Bears did win.

2. Obviously, the Bears’ pass rush is still a concern after three weeks. At this point, the defensive line has two sacks and the linebackers have three. The Bears blitzed heavily in Pittsburgh, and the heavy rush contributed to the Steelers’ five turnovers. But also many times the rush did not get there, and each time I held my breath as Ben Roethlisberger time and time again found receivers open for huge gains. The blitz worked last Sunday, in the end. But this isn’t going to work consistently through the season. Not to even mention the loss for the season of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton. Ouch.

3. The Bears have defeated two 0-3 teams in very precarious fashion. Now they head to Detroit, where I’m not usually nervous, but I am a bit this year. The Lions don’t look quite as weak as they always do. Just another test for Trestman’s players. I’m glad he’s at the helm.

The Forecast- Bears vs Steelers

Another up and down game goes the Bears way. Thinking about it, I can’t remember the last time there was a kick return for a touchdown, an interception for a touchdown, and a fumble return for a touchdown all in the same game. Jay Cutler tried to piss the game away (two interceptions and a fumble) as did Matt Forte (4th quarter fumble), but in the end, Cutler and Martellus Bennett capped off a brilliant game winning drive. Did anyone actually see this coming from Bennett? Obviously, he’s a huge upgrade from Kellen Davis (who had a penalty in his first game for the Seahawks on Sunday, by the way), but there was a lot being made about his attitude and inconsistencies. So far, he’s been nothing short of great. Look for him to continue to play well in the coming weeks.

The Vikings are pretty awful. They had every opportunity to win this game, and instead, Bill Musgrave called a pathetic game when Minnesota was in the red-zone, and for it, Adrian Peterson was understandably upset. On the Vikings last drive, all the Vikings had to do was run three times instead of two. This would have most likely used up all of the time on the clock, or close to it, which would probably have the city of Chicago singing a different tune. It also would have given them a better shot to score on 2nd and goal than a floater to the pylon from Christian Ponder.

The Bears now roll into the Steel City, where they are 2-0 and the Steelers are in unchartered territory at 0-2. The Steelers have a lot of issues. They are old on defense, their douchebag 2x Super Bowl champion quarterback hates his douchebag offensive coordinator, and their injuries continue to pile up. It’s never easy to win on the road, especially against a desperate team. The first road game for Marc Trestman will be a big test indeed.

College Football Recap
That was a shameful Saturday of college football. On paper, the best games were Arizona State vs Stanford and Michigan State vs Notre Dame. It turns out, though, that Michigan vs Connecticut was the best contest of the day. The Wolverines trailed at halftime but squeaked out a 3-point win despite trailing after two quarters.

Teddy Bridgewater continues to put up dazzling numbers. Yesterday, he only threw 22 passes but four went for touchdowns. Again, he continues to be the Heisman front runner to this point in the season.

If anyone missed it, College Gameday brought their excitement to Fargo, North Dakota for North Dakota State against Delaware State. I have watched this show for a lot of years, and I cannot remember a more awesome atmosphere. The fans were into it the whole time, and even though schools like Alabama, Oregon, LSU, Clemson, and so on have unbelievable fan bases, this was different. Everyone there has so much pride for their state and school, and they all seemed like they really cherished and appreciated the publicity.

Tonight, it will be cloudless skies and temperatures in the 50’s at kick-off. In other words, it will be a perfect night for football.

Injury report
Yet again, Chicago is almost fully healthy. Martellus Bennett (shoulder), Kyle Long (back), and Brandon Marshall (back) will all play. Charles Tillman (knee) is questionable but my guess is that he will play. The Steelers, on the other hand, are in awful shape. Star C Maurkice Pouncey (knee), ILB Larry Foote (biceps), and back-up RB and special teams ace Larod Stephens-Howling (knee) are all out for the year. Rookie RB Le’Veon Bell (foot) is questionable, but I don’t think he will play tonight, either. Rookie OLB Jarvis Jones (heal), DE Brent Keisel (calf), CB Curtis Brown (illness) and DT Steve McClendon (hamstring) should all suit up. All-Pro TE Heath Miller (knee) tore his ACL last year and this will most likely be his first game back. Starting CB Cortez Allen (knee) is out today, leaving a huge void in the Steelers’ already porous defense.

Did you know?
The last time a Bears’ head coach started out his career 3-0 was Neill Armstrong in 1978.

NFL Predictions
I can’t believe it’s already week 3. I’ve had a decent start so far. Let’s continue it today with the Packers over the Bengals, Falcons over the Dolphins, Redskins over the Lions, 49ers over the Colts, and the Giants over the Panthers. (9-2 on the year)

Players to Watch
Antonio Brown- Antonio Brown is really a pretty overrated player, with all things being equal. Of course, he gets a lot of notoriety playing in Pittsburgh, but he’s only played a full season once in his 3+ seasons. He only has 7 career touchdowns as well. However, he and Emmanuel Sanders are the Steelers’ only two true weapons, so the organization gave him a huge $43 million extension last year. Brown is very quick, but their offensive line hasn’t held up in order for Ben Roethlisberger to get him the ball. Starting out 0-2 isn’t exactly common in Western Pennsylvania, and Ed Bouchette from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is reporting that during last week’s loss to Cincinnati, Brown “angrily confronted” offensive coordinator Todd Haley. In cases like these, coordinators then tend to force the ball to the upset player. If they force it too much, the Bears’ corners will make them pay.

Troy Polamalu- Troy Polamalu will go down as one of the best safeties ever. Nobody makes a play more exciting than the former USC standout. He’s so athletic and smart, and no pass is ever safe toward the middle of the field against he and Ryan Clark. Polamalu can intercept a pass, jump over the line and sack the quarterback, and lay out a wide receiver at a moment’s notice. Despite being up there in age and probably not as explosive as he once was, Cutler and Trestman need to know where he is on every play. Polamalu can still take over a game. As a Bears’ fan, you do not want to hear his name called a lot today.

Henry Melton- I keep waiting for the defensive line to have a huge game, and I keep being disappointed. However, the Steelers may have the worst interior offensive line in the NFL. With Pouncey out, that leaves them with Titans’ retread Fernando Velasco at center. Ramon Foster is an average guard and second year player out of Stanford, David Decastro, is at the other guard spot. Henry Melton potentially could have a dominant game. Rumors out of Halas Hall say that his preseason concussion has set him back, and maybe two games has done the trick, but that is a shitty excuse for me. If he wants a contract this upcoming offseason close to the one Geno Atkins received, his needs to step up his game starting tonight.

Kyle Long- The Bears have been dominating the run game running behind Kyle Long, ranking 6th in the NFL so far this year at 5.15 yards per carry behind him. However, Long’s pass blocking has been solid but not spectacular thus far. Of course, it’s hard to be perfect when you’re that raw and it’s hard to be picky, but he will definitely have his work cut out for him tonight. Dick LeBeau and his defense will set up complex schemes and blitzes to confuse Long and Jordan Mills. They have passed their first two tests against a dominating Bengals’ defensive line and a Vikings team with two good defensive ends, but it will be imperative for Long along with Mills to succeed tonight if Chicago wants to be 3-0.

The Forecast
Not that the talent level is even, because it’s not, but this is such a tricky game to predict. The Steelers have made excellence their standard for years. They are arguably the best organization in football, and I know that their team, organization, coaches, and fans won’t stand for starting out 0-3, including two home losses. However, the difference in talent between these two teams is so great that they are going to have to literally pull out all of the stops in this game. Their whole offensive line should allow a sleeping giant in the Bears’ defensive line to explode. Their cornerbacks, especially with Cortez Allen being out, shouldn’t be able to match up with Chicago’s weapons. For Pittsburgh, Roethlisberger has to have a special night against a tough defense if the Steelers want to improve to 1-2. However, for the talent discrepancy alone, I’m going with the road team. Bears 17-16. (2-0 on the year)

-Brian Ociepka (@bjociepka1)

2013 Chicago Bears Friday 5: at Steelers

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Bears have a long history, since the Steelers have been around since 1933. But since the Bears-Steelers game in 1980 was the first I watched, I’ll start there. That year the Bears were coming off a playoff appearance when they entered Three Rivers Stadium to take on the defending world champions. The Bears were 1-1, and promptly were embarrassed 38-3. As a fourth grader I distinctly remember watching the game at my Aunt’s house, and the game getting out of control very early. The teams didn’t play again until 1986 when the Bears won 13-10 in overtime. That game was during a stretch in which the Bears couldn’t score without Jim McMahon. In 1989, Chicago again won 20-0 during a season in which they only won six games total. In 1992, in Mike Singletary‘s last home game, the Bears won one of their only five games that season against the AFC Championship-bound Steelers. To me, that game makes me question whether the 1992 Chicago Bears were as bad as their record, or if the players quit on Mike Ditka.

The 1995 meeting at Soldier Field was also memorable. I remember Bears receiver Curtis Conway dropping multiple passes and that hideous ’95 pass defense giving up conversion after conversion on third down. The Bears lost in overtime after Kevin Butler couldn’t make the winning kick in regulation. In 1998 at Three Rivers, the Bears were overmatched and lost.

The teams didn’t meet again until 2005, in a game which many of us remember. It was the Bears’ first trip to Heinz Field. The Bears were rolling at the time, but with rookie Kyle Orton at quarterback they were bowled over by Jerome Bettis. The Steelers were on the way to a Super Bowl win, and crushed the Bears 21-9 in the bright snowfall.

Finally, in the last meeting between the two teams in 2009, the Bears won 17-14 over the reigning Super Bowl champs. It was Jay Cutler‘s first win as a Bear.

Speaking of Cutler, he’s currently the highest-rated third down passer in the NFL. That’s good to know.

But conversely, the Bears defense is allowing their opponents to convert over 50% of their third-down attempts. Not good.

I’m pretty sure I went on record when he was hired to declare Marc Trestman a fantastic “out of the box” hire by GM Phil Emery. I think we’d be hard pressed to find any Bears fan that isn’t enamored with him at this point. Trestman became just the third coach in the Bears’ 93-year history to start his career with a 2-0 record (George Halas and Neill Armstrong were the others.) But remember, Armstrong started 3-0 and finished 20-24 as a head coach. Just like last week, I think the Bears will win in Pittsburgh and start this season 3-0. But also just like last week, I don’t expect the win to be easy. The Steelers won’t roll over at home and start the season 0-3 easily. But the team has rushed for less than 100 yards in the first two games. This should make them one-dimensional. But the possibility still exists that if the Bears commit mistakes and can’t stop the pass, they could lose.

Finally, Cincinnati Bengals, if you’re as good as you and everyone else thinks you are, please beat Green Bay, will you?

Vikings at Bears 2013: 3 Up 3 Down

I started Sunday morning glad that I didn’t have my tickets for the game, given the steady rain. As the Minnesota Vikings looked to be driving toward a nail-in-the-coffin touchdown with less than five minutes remaining, I was ready to write it off. Then when Martellus Bennett caught the winning touchdown pass from Jay Cutler in a stirring come from behind, one point victory, I wished I had been there through the game, soaked to the bone. Definitely I would rank this game in the top 5 of this decaude, probably high in the top 10 best games since the Mike Ditka era.

Defense stood tall when it counted

Regardless of how the Bears defense bent way too much at times, they have to be commended for keeping the Vikings out of the end zone when it counted. With Minnesota having first and goal on their final possession, I was quite sure the game was lost. But the Bears defense forced a Viking field goal, giving the Bears a shot to win the game with a final touchdown. Which they did.

Once again this is finally a big-boy offense

Unbelievable. The Vikings may be having their problems, but their defense can still be potent. Yet the Bears coaching staff called the right plays, and the players executed when it counted. Maybe I’m just stunned to see a competent Bears offensive team. Could be, but I’m liking it.

While Hester Couldn’t break one, he did everything but

On three kickoff returns, Devin Hester was just not able to get by the last man he needed to beat for touchdowns. Maybe he has lost a step, but his returns kept the Bears in the game as the defense did. Hester’s 249 total kickoff return yards were his best in an illustrious career, and best in Bears history.

Too many mistakes

Certainly the Bears didn’t plan on giving up a touchdown on the opening kickoff, a touchdown return on a fumble, and critical interceptions. So it would be trite to say they did bad in this area. Obviously they did do bad and have to clean up the mistakes, but NFL teams have days like this. On Sunday, luckily the Bears were good enough to overcome the mistakes. It won’t always be that way.

Defense bent too much

Again, the defense stepped up when it counted, and the Bears made some mistakes (fumbles, penalty for too many men on the field) that didn’t put them in a good position to defend. And they did play admirably against Adrian Peterson, keeping him out of the end zone. But they gave up 351 total yards. Again, luckily the offense was able to save this day.

Pass rush again absent

Contributing to Christian Ponder’s ability to have a better game in week one than week two was again a lack of a strong pass rush by the Bears’ front four. There were several plays on which I saw Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker send blitzers, and I had a bad feeling each time Ponder released and found his receiver. The Bears are going to have to address what could be going wrong with the rush, since it remained strong throughout 2012.

Next up are the always-solid Pittsburgh Steelers on the road. Pittsburgh looks like it has many problems this year, so could the Bears steal a game that looked a lot more difficult a few months ago?

The Forecast- Bears vs Vikings

The win last week was very satisfying. The reason why: the Bears finally have coaches who can make halftime adjustments. Over the past couple of years, the Bears were absolutely putrid when trailing at halftime. Aside from one drive in the first half, the offense was generating nothing. They came out in the 3rd quarter, put up points on a good defense, and ended up winning the game, with some help from the Bengals, proving that they still have a team full of assclowns. Another reason it was fun to watch: the Bears finally have a real offensive line. Don’t get me wrong, they might not finish as a top 10 offensive line. I can guarantee, however, that they won’t finish as a pitiful one. As I mentioned last week, Jordan Mills needed to have a good game but instead had an unbelievable one. On the 4th and 1 play that Jay Cutler referred to as “ballsy,” Marc Trestman trusted Mills enough to run a toss play behind him. Low and behold, he and Tony Fiammetta hit their blocks and Matt Forte got the first down. Cutler also made three great plays with his feet, one being a scramble (that should have netted a 15 yard penalty as well), and that was the ballgame.

The Vikings might as well be renamed the Petersons. They have nothing on offense in terms of weapons, with the exception of Adrian Peterson and Kyle Rudolph. Christian Ponder absolutely sucks, Greg Jennings threw his career away by signing with them, Cordarrelle Patterson is still raw, and Jerome Simpson is a fucking knucklehead. Also, the best fullback in football, Jerome Felton, is still suspended for Minnesota. Their two tackles are very good, but their guards are nothing to write home about, and that should allow Stephen Paea, Henry Melton, and Nate Collins to apply pressure on Ponder.

Like the Bengals, the Vikings have a good defensive line, and like the Bengals, they don’t have any linebackers. Jared Allen and Brian Robison are good players, but they’re not the same on grass. I fully trust Mills and Jermon Bushrod to handle them, too. Chad Greenway is decent, but Erin Henderson is so-so. They are similar to Cincinnati in another way: they signed a rival’s linebacker, Desmond Bishop. Like James Harrison though, they don’t use him a lot because he’s a pedestrian player.

This one is a big game for Minnesota. If they start the year 0-2, their season is probably over. They just don’t have the talent to make up that deficit, especially with teams like Seattle, Baltimore, Green Bay twice, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Washington, Dallas, and New York still on their schedule.

College Football Recap
Last week, I said that Texas A&M was going to have a rough time with Alabama if their defense played like it did against Rice and Sam Houston State. Well, their defense blew again and so they had a rough time with Alabama. Johnny Manziel had no chance. His defense let him down, and even though he threw interceptions, it was going to be impossible for the Aggies to win with the defensive showing that they had.

USC needs to fire Lane Kiffin. It seems like an odd time to say this after a pounding of Boston College, but last week they fell to a horrible Washington State team. Where was yesterday’s game plan against the Cougars eight days ago? He is a moron, plain and simple. His record since taking over in Southern California is very mediocre, and he’s 1-5 against Oregon and Stanford. Hell, he can’t even recruit anymore; their recruiting class is ranked 44th in the country at the moment, behind god damn Rice. Kirby Smart (Alabama DC), Scott Frost (Oregon OC), Chris Petersen (Boise State HC), Jeff Fisher (Rams HC), and Jack Del Rio (Broncos DC) are all better options for the Trojans, among many others.

It looks like the radar is showing in the mid-60’s with a very good chance of rain today. Combined with the fact that Washington played Illinois yesterday on the surface, the rain should help the Bears against a dome team.

Injury report
The Bears are very healthy yet again. Charles Tillman (knee) is fine as is Julius Peppers (illness). The Vikings are as well. Center John Sullivan (knee) is good to go after Ndamukong Suh dove at his knees like a jackass last week. DT Kevin Williams (knee), RT Phil Loadholt (knee), and CB Josh Robinson (quad) will all play.

Did you know?
Jay Cutler has thrown 17 career touchdowns against the Vikings, the most he has thrown against any team.

NFL Predictions
This week, I like the Cowboys over the Chiefs, Saints over the Bucs, Bills over the Panthers, Broncos over the Giants, Packers over the Redskins, and for an upset, the Dolphins over the Colts. (4-1 on the season)

Players to Watch
Adrian Peterson- Adrian Peterson continues to play at an extremely high level. I’m not surprised. He’s better now than he was two years ago before a gruesome knee injury. He took his first carry last week for a 78-yard touchdown. However, he has to be frustrated. The offense is strictly on his shoulders each and every week. Despite his three touchdowns a week ago, Minnesota still lost a winnable game in Detroit. For that reason, he has to be thinking “what else can I do?” He has a point. As I mentioned earlier, Ponder is very average and his receivers aren’t any good. Kyle Rudolph is a solid tight end, but it doesn’t do him any good that he doesn’t have a quarterback who can get him the ball. The Bears focus today will be stopping the run. They are going to put 8 and 9 guys in the box and let Ponder, Jennings and Simpson attempt to beat Chicago’s secondary.

Devin Hester- In my preseason article about the keys to a success year, I said that Devin Hester has to find a way to make an impact this year. Do I expect 3-5 touchdowns? Probably not, but this could get a game where he can reintroduce himself. The Vikings cut Chris Kluwe in the offseason due to his ineptitude and stupidity. They found his replacement in the draft, Jeff Locke, out of UCLA. Locke had a decent game in Detroit, but this is outdoors now. This isn’t a dome and it certainly isn’t Southern California. It’s also not his typical Pac-12 punt returner. Mike Priefer, Vikings special teams coach, has most likely been preaching all week on kicking away from Hester. That can put a lot of pressure on a rookie punter. Eventually, that can result in two things: kicking it right to Hester or shanking a punt. Let’s hope each happens.

Julius Peppers- A lot has come out of Halas Hall this week about Julius Peppers potentially being injured because he had ONE bad game. I know after a win there is nothing to write and talk about, but it’s not like Peppers was the only guy who struggled to get to Andy Dalton. Peppers has always played well against Minnesota. Against Loadholt and Matt Kalil in addition to a shitty field, it won’t be easy this week, but I expect Peppers to have a solid game.

The Forecast
Unless Peterson breaks an NFL record of some kind and the Bears lay a huge egg, I look at this game as a hard one for Chicago to lose. After a come-from-behind win like they had last week against a good Bengals team, the Bears as well as the 61,500 at Soldier Field will be ready to go. Bears 27-13. (1-0 on the year)

-Brian Ociepka (@bjociepka1)

2013 Chicago Bears Friday 5: vs. Vikings

I am confident in a Bears win over the Vikings on Sunday. A Viking victory would portend some bad things for the Bears. For Minnesota to win, as I see it one of two things would have to happen for the Vikings, and one for the Bears. The Bears would either have to be completely unable to stop Adrian Peterson, or the Vikings and Christian Ponder would find a way to get their passing attack in gear against the Chicago front. As the Bears were able to hold Peterson in check in 2012, and Minnesota’s passing game seems to be a shambles, I don’t know how likely this is. Also, the Bears would have to be completely stifled offensively. And I have confidence in Marc Trestman, who after one game has proven himself a competent NFL head coach.

Speaking of Minnesota’s passing game, why does it seem to be so bad? The Vikings have capable receivers in Greg Jennings, Jerome Simpson and rookie Cordarrelle Patterson. Not to mention the threat of Peterson coming out of the backfield. And Ponder wasn’t a first-round draft pick for nothing. One feeling of caution I have against the Bears optimism is thinking back on the 2007 Bears-Vikings game at Soldier Field. I was feeling supremely confident. Then I watched quarterback Tavaris Jackson hook up with receiver Troy Williamson, a guy that did nothing in the NFL, for a 60-yard TD. As well as Peterson run wild in a surprise Viking win. I don’t think this will be easy by any stretch.

Speaking of which I was just listening to Mully and Hanley talk to Bears radio analyst Jeff Joniak on the score. I found a couple things funny. First, Hanley says “every Bears fan in the world thinks this is going to be an easy win.” Way to extrapolate to everyone, Brian. Then Joniak says “in the media room I know of several writers who already have the Bears starting 5-0 and undefeated into their bye week.” Huh? Who are these writers, Jeff? Didn’t most of the writers last week have the Bears losing and finishing no better than 8-8 in 2013? A fickle bunch they are.

A little recent history on the Bears-Vikings series. I recall tailgating prior to the 2000 Sunday Night Football game at old Soldier Field, hoping the Bears would finally turn the tide against their rivals. In 2000, the Bears had lost four straight and seven of eight to Minnesota at home. They didn’t do it that night, making the Bears losers in eight of nine meetings at Soldier Field from 1992-2000. But since 2001, the Bears have rolled against the Vikings at Soldier Field/Champaign, losing only in 2007. This gives Chicago an 11-1 record at home against the Vikings since ’01. Wow.

Did I mention that I do NOT think this will be an “easy win?” But I do expect a win. A loss means the Bears may very well finish closer to 8-8 than 12-4.

Bengals at Bears 2013: 3 Up 3 Down

Bengals at Bears 2013: 3 up 3 down

This was the game the Bears couldn’t win, according to many experts. In Sunday’s Chicago Tribune, six of the eight legitimate picks were for the Bengals, the only dissenters were Fred Mitchell and Dan Wiederer. I rarely give my opinion on Bears games, other than to say I always hope they win. But before the game I told many that I believed the Bears would win. I know that Cincinnati is a good team, and they certainly played like it on Sunday. But I just didn’t understand why so many gave the Bears so little a chance. Here are three positives and three concerns I took away from section 249 when I left the game Sunday:

Three Ups

- Jay Cutler was not sacked! I believe that according to Brad Biggs, this was only the sixth of 57 games Jay Cutler has played as a Bear in which he was not sacked a single time. It is fantastic to see this revamped offensive line finally give some protection to the most critical player on the team. I’m also thankful to finally see two young players on the right side of the line that should be building blocks for years to come. Especially since former GM Jerry Angelo neglected the line in the draft throughout his tenure.

- I was talking throughout the game with our neighbors, remembering how the Bears seemingly have always been a team unable to make halftime adjustments to finish strong. In fact, in Dave Wannstedt’s last season, the Bears were ahead at halftime in most if not all of the first five games when they started 0-5. But in each game they inevitably broke down after halftime. It was great to finally see the Bears come back after seemingly being on their heels in the third quarter.

- How good is Robbie Gould? I didn’t even realize until about a week ago that Gould set the Bears’ longest field goal record in 2011 with a 57-yard kick. Then on Sunday, he scores what turned out to be the winning points on a 58-yarder, which is a new team record. And that kick would have been good from another 7 yards out at least. There was some friction between Gould and the Bears over his lack of a new deal for 2014 and beyond. I understand that with so many players to pay after 2013, some rough decisions need to be made. But Gould certainly proved his worth against Cincinnati.

Three Downs

- There is concern over pressure generated by the defensive line. Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton did get rid of the ball very fast, but there should have been more pressure. It bears watching to see if the rush improves in the near future. Chicago’s defense gave up too many passing yards on Sunday, and this trend will continue if the pass rush does not improve.

- Is Julius Peppers hurt? Peppers lined up across from Cincinnati’s second-string left tackle and should have dominated the matchup. I will be hoping that Peppers will return to form and there isn’t a long term issue developing.

- Nothing against the Bears, but many of us are wondering if the NFL should just eliminate kickoffs and spot the ball at the 20 yard line. I don’t think Devin Hester had a chance to return a single kickoff as they were all kicked out of the end zone.

The Minnesota Vikings will provide another test for the Bears in week two. If Chicago can contain Adrian Peterson, there shouldn’t be much threat from Christian Ponder‘s arm. But will the experts agree?

The Forecast- Bears vs Bengals

This isn’t exactly a historic day, but as some of you know, I have done game previews for absolutely no reason at all since 2010. These previews were typed up along the course of the week leading up to the game and then sent out via text message to anyone who cared to read, and eventually, a few people wanted them every game. It never got big or anything, but I eventually felt confident enough that I looked around to where I could do this publicly. I was fortunate enough for Roy to listen to my request, a request first started among friends. So, this is the first time “The Forecast” is being released to anyone who cares to read.

It seems like this is becoming an every-offseason deal, but the Bears once again made a lot of noise this summer.

Free Agent additions: LB James Anderson, TE Martellus Bennett, T Eben Britton, T Jermon Bushrod, TE Steve Maneri, G Matt Slauson, LB D.J. Williams.

Draft: LB Jon Bostic, LB Khaseem Greene, G Kyle Long, T Jordan Mills, DE Cornelius Washington, WR Marquess Wilson

Free Agent Losses: QB Jason Campbell, TE Kellen Davis (hallelujah), LB Geno Hayes, DE Israel Idonije, G Lance Louis, CB D.J. Moore, LB Nick Roach, TE Matt Spaeth, G Chris Spencer, DT Matt Toeaina, LB Brian Urlacher

The move that everyone was talking about, however, was not retaining Brian Urlacher. Because of this, Urlacher finally realized that it was time to pack it in. Phil Emery didn’t exactly make friends within the locker room with this move, but Jon Bostic’s potential is through the roof and nobody else cared to offer Urlacher what he considered a good deal. Regardless, Urlacher will always be loved by Chicago and rightfully so. He was a great player.

The Bengals had a quiet offseason. They added very little in free agency yet lost Manny Lawson, who had a solid year for them in 2012. As a matter of fact, their replacement for Lawson is former Steeler and longtime asshat James Harrison. The acquisition of Harrison looks good on paper, but he’s never played in a 4-3 scheme and his body as well as his ability is declining, missing 8 games in the past 2 years and putting little pressure on the quarterback in both seasons. Their main acquisitions came via the draft, where they took Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard with their first two picks, respectively. This was in an attempt to help Andy Dalton get over his playoff troubles (0 touchdowns and 5 turnovers in 2 career games). Eifert can be Dalton’s intermediate target to help A.J. Green get some one-on-one coverage. Second year receiver Mohamed Sanu can help with that as well. The former Rutgers standout had a confusing 2012 as 25 percent of his catches went for touchdowns. Obviously, that is skewed due to only catching 16 total passes. He will need accumulate more receptions this season to really help Green and Dalton.

Cincinnati is a scary team. They firmly believe that they are Super Bowl contenders. They have multiple good players everywhere, and they may have the best coaching staff in football.

College Football Recap
Texas A&M continues to win, but I can’t imagine that Kevin Sumlin feels very confident. They’ve soundly beaten Sam Houston State and Rice, but their defense has been getting annihilated. It doesn’t get much easier in 6 days when they host Alabama. Unless Johnny Manziel has an unbelievably great game, it’s going to be tough for the Aggies.

Notre Dame is going to have a challenge getting back to a BCS game. That might be best for college football fans, because they were hilariously obliterated by Alabama last year in one. Seriously though, their defense isn’t what it was last year and Tommy Rees is awful. Speaking of that, did anyone see that awesome Eminem interview at halftime? He talked gambling with Brent Musburger and pretty much told Kirk Herbstreit that he stinks at his job. That whole thing made me so uncomfortable. Good stuff.

Teddy Bridgewater, two weeks in, has to be the favorite for the Heisman trophy. He is going to continue to throw all over teams in a weak conference. Through two games, he has completed 77 percent of his passes and has thrown for 9 touchdowns. With Jadeveon Clowney struggling so far, Bridgewater is also the favorite to be picked number one in the draft.

The Bears always seem to luck out with the weather in opening games. This year, it will be no different. It looks like clear skies with temperatures in the mid-70’s with 12-15 mph wind.

Did you know?
Did you know that Andy Dalton’s career record against teams who didn’t make the playoffs is 17-4, but it’s just 1-11 against teams who did go on to make the playoffs?

NFL Predictions
As I posted on twitter the other day, my Super Bowl prediction for this year is Atlanta against Denver, with Atlanta beating Dallas in the NFC and Denver beating Indianapolis in the AFC. I like Panthers DT Star Lotulelei to win Defensive Rookie of the Year, Bengals RB Giovani Bernard to win it offensively, Matt Ryan to win the MVP award, and Ndamukong Suh to put his douchebaggery aside and win the Defensive Player of the Year.

Today, I like New Orleans to clip Atlanta, Pittsburgh to smash Tennessee, Indianapolis to pound Oakland, Kansas City to topple the Jaguars, and in an upset, the Jets to beat the Buccaneers.

Players to Watch
George Iloka- George Iloka, in case you’ve never heard of him which you probably have not, is Cincinnati’s starting strong safety. He’s a second year player out of Boise State and was selected in the 5th round last year. This is the position of the Bengals, along with their linebackers, that is their biggest weakness. Iloka has no experience whatsoever. Behind him, they have Taylor Mays, former USC weight lifting champion and Shawn Williams, 2013 third round pick out of Georgia. Without a doubt, Marc Trestman has to realize that they can exploit Iloka, and with the exception of Leon Hall, the rest of Cincinnati’s secondary.

Rey Maualuga- Somehow, Rey Maualuga was retained by the Bengals this offseason. Arguably the worst starting linebacker in the league, Maualuga was given a solid contract for some unknown reason. On top of it, Vontaze Burfict is the future at linebacker in southern Ohio, yet he is being forced to stay outside while Maualuga continues to be anemic in the middle. Like Iloka, Maualuga is a player that Chicago can easily exploit both in the running and passing game.

Jordan Mills- Jordan Mills may as well be the key for the Bears’ offense this whole year, but he must play especially well today. The Bengals’ defensive line is absolutely loaded. Geno Atkins is the best defensive tackle in football, and their other defensive tackle, Demata Peko, is good as well. Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap, however, will be the two ends that Mills will have to go against. Johnson recorded 11.5 sacks last year and Dunlap had 6, which may seem underwhelming but he didn’t play very much and missed a few games. They also drafted Margus Hunt who has amazing raw ability. Mills was one of my favorite Bears’ picks this year and has shown promise, but nobody can say that they thought he would be starting in week one. This isn’t San Diego, who will be lucky to win six games this year. This definitely isn’t Carolina, a team with little depth on their defensive line. And, this sure as hell isn’t Oakland, a team who probably couldn’t win the Arena Bowl.

The Forecast
This game is a toss-up. The Bengals have skill everywhere- Dalton, Green, Bernard, Burfict, Hall, Atkins, Johnson, Dunlap, Peko, and Eifert. The Bears do as well- Cutler, Forte, Marshall, Bennett, Jeffery, Peppers, Melton, Tillman, Jennings, Bushrod, and Long. The difference, to me, are the quarterbacks. Jay Cutler now is finally working with offensive minds to go with his talent. He has seemingly bought into what Trestman, Cavanaugh and Kromer are selling. Meanwhile, there is a lot of pressure on Dalton this year from the hundreds of Bengals’ fans who exist. He is going into a tough environment today against one of the best defenses in football, a formula that hasn’t exactly been kind to him in the past. It won’t help that Andrew Whitworth, his starting LT, is out today. Bears 26-20.

-Brian Ociepka (@bjociepka1)

Chicago Bears Friday Five 2013 Opener

The bad news is those of us in the northern United States now begin the long descent into winter. As much as I truly do enjoy freezing cold Bears games, I despise six to eight straight months of dreary weather. However, the great news is that in 48 hours my crew will be departing to see the opening of the Chicago Bears’ 94th season, my 35th as a Bears fan, and 34th as a regular game attendee. Here are five thoughts on this opening day for the 2013 Chicago Bears:

The time is here to finally see the real version of Marc Trestman’s Chicago Bears, not the watered-down preseason version. I go on record as saying I really liked the choice of Trestman. I was forced to be OK with the hiring of Dick Jauron and Lovie Smith–we have no choice but to buy in to some degree–but those search processes were so screwed up that we almost knew something was going to go wrong. With Trestman, Phil Emery was decisive. It was certainly an out of the box hire, but he knew this was the guy he wanted and executed. I personally had forgotten about Trestman for most of the last 10 years, but I certainly remember when he was a hot offensive assistant on the sidelines of some very successful offensive teams (San Francisco, Oakland). I am very excited to see the Bears finally have an even match between their offense and their opponent’s defense. When the Bears have a third-and-long against Cincinnati, think about when Chicago employed the Tice’s, Martz’s and Shoop’s of the world and their chances then versus now. Martz’s offense couldn’t be executed without Hall of Famers on the offensive line, Shoop would play for better position to punt, and I really question Tice’s abilities. Now the Bears finally have an offensive coach with real ideas. I think.

Casual Bears fans have been asking me “so how good are the Bengals?” We’re going to find out for sure on Sunday, obviously. But I tell them Cincinnati has been on the cusp for a long time, but they still haven’t made it past a playoff game or two. Andy Dalton was a fortuitous pick at quarterback in 2012; he and receiver A.J. Green are a dynamic combination. We’ll see the playmaking tight end the Bears’ passed on, Tyler Eifert, on Sunday as well. On defense, I keep hearing how the Bengals have the best defensive line in football, but to be honest I have no personal idea how good they are. The Bengals being in the AFC, I don’t pay a lot of attention to them. We’ve been hearing all week about how three-technique defensive tackle Geno Atkins is the best lineman in football. Atkins was a fourth-round pick in the 2010 draft-I love to see guys emerge that were there for the taking that nobody else noticed.

Speaking of Cincinnati’s dominant defensive line-here’s one positive thought for the Bears. Think about this. A year ago, the Bears would have been blocking these guys with Gabe Carimi, Lance Louis, J’Marcus Webb and Chris Spencer. Isn’t it heartening to know that this year we have Jermon Bushrod, Matt Slauson, Kyle Long and Jordan Mills (in addition to incumbent center Roberto Garza) defending Jay Cutler? For sure there could be some rough stretches for the young guys especially, but I’m eager to see how they do.

Something I was thinking this morning-there have been plenty of storylines on the 2013 Chicago Bears. One that I’m thinking about that hasn’t received much attention is how critical the play of safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte will be. The Bears have not invested a significant draft pick in the secondary as a whole since Charles Tillman was drafted in the second round ten years ago. Wright and Conte were both third-round picks, and to date GM Phil Emery’s most egregious error was drafting third-round safety Brandon Hardin in 2012, who is already history. Both Wright and Conte have a history with injuries, and the depth chart looks very scary with only Craig Steltz and Anthony Walters as backups. Wright in particular has become a solid if unspectacular strong safety since he stabilized a position that had been a revolving door under Jerry Angelo and Lovie Smith. Conte has been a playmaker and hard hitter as well. These two must stay healthy and play at least an adequate level for the Bears to sustain success on defense.

I don’t think I’ve made a Bears season prediction since 2008, and then only one time. I was going to try to do it this morning. I can’t. I went through the schedule, and in my mind, all I could do was think IF Jay Cutler stays healthy and controls his wild side, IF the offensive line pans out, IF receivers don’t drop passes, IF Matt Forte stays healthy, IF the aging defense doesn’t begin to break down, I see W, W, W, W, W, W and that doesn’t make sense. Some things are going to go wrong when we don’t expect it. So I’ll just say IF some of those things go well this Sunday, the Bears will win their fourth straight opening day.